Holiday Gift List 2013

This is the second installment of my coveted Holiday Gift List, anticipated by 10′s of people county wide! Last year’s naughty list had some real winners like hand-crank pasta machines and infinitely sharp knives. I stick by any of those items as a great purchase for you and yours, but to expand on the list I’d like to offer some great finds from 2013 including local favorites and pantry staples.

Local Favorites

Benny T’s Vesta is a no-brainer. My Pops invented it, we make every jar by hand with local chiles, and it’s the greatest addition to your food since salt. If there’s someone, anyone, in your life that enjoys spicy food – this is the gift for them.

Big Spoon Roaster’s Chai Peanut Butter is a festive punch in the mouth. It doesn’t come cheap, but a little bit goes a long way.

Nello’s Sauce is great for grilled pizzas on the fly.

Sling Shot Coffee’s cold-brew and concentrate bottles are an ideal gift for any caffe’ buffs in your life.

I only recently received a few bottles of White Whale mixers out of Durham and they’re already a standard on the bar in the Giusto kitchen. The Auntie’s Old Fashion mixer is a personal favorite.

Hardware

My nan had this exact same Le Creuscet pan. I remember standing over her as she fried pork cutlets and peppers in this heavy-weight. My parents have the original but these new throwbacks are pretty close in size, shape and weight.

All-Clad makes excellent pots and pans, but you pay an arm and a leg at stores like William & Sonoma or Crate & Barrel. A solid, tall pasta pot like this may run up to $150 in the mall. My advice? Check out the local Home Goods or TJ Maxx for All-Clad, Le Creuscet and other quality pans.

Carbon Steel pans like these are perfect for searing or pan frying. Try scoring a few at the restaurant supply shop rather than shelling out the big bucks at Sur La Whateva’.

A grilling basket is an awesome way to get great char on fragile items like whole fish, calamari, lamb chops, etc. without losing them to the sticky grates.

I was skeptical of the Vinturi wine aerator at first too, but 3 years of satisfied sipping has made me a believer. I find it works best for younger, cheaper wines by taking away that youthful bite and smoothing things out. It’ll make that $3 Chuck taste like a $5, easy!

Software

These are basic pantry items, but they will drastically change the quality of your food – even when served raw.

I had the pleasure of visiting Castello di Volpaia when I lived in Firenze. Their vinegars, both white & red, are the best I’ve ever tasted and will add tons of flavor to your dishes. Not to sound like a complete tool, but they will change the way you use vinegar. Nah, that makes me sound like a dick no matter what.

Trapani Sea Salt, from a small island off Sicily, is incredible on seafood, vegetables, and added to good olive oil to dip.

Olive Oil is something I’m asked about often. There’s one product that is consistently top-notch and that’s Frantoia. Unlike strong, peppery olive oils from Tuscany, this fruity, fresh oil from Sicily is perfect for every use under the sole including frying. It’s also easy to find and not outrageously expensive.

Cookbooks

ShortStack Editions

Kinfolk Table

Cichetti

My Calabria

Polpo

Made in Sicily

What Katie Ate

 

 

 

Booze of the Month! – November

Thanksgiving is upon us, hmm? Roast poultry, yams of a thousand varieties mashed, stewed, and ‘mallowed. It’s a holiday to reflect, give thanks, and throw out the very notion of a ‘diet’. Good thing, because to accompany your gobble gluttony I’ve selected a quite extravagant pour as the star of November’s Booze of the Month.

LaFinDuMonde1

Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde

Product Details: 9.0% alcohol Triple-Style Golden Ale brewed in Quebec, Canada.

Appearance: Thick, clowdy, and bright golden with a extra silky, lacey head.

Aroma: Full of malt and sugar. You can actually smell the individual spices (ie. nutmeg, clove, etc) this heady triple is brewed with.

Taste: I first tasted this beer in 2003 when I started working at Casa Rustica in Boone, NC. The desire for microbrew beers was not so ubiquitous with locals and tourists then, so La Fin was always ready to be popped following a long shift. La Fin du Monde (translated to World’s End) is a beer with outrageous character. It’s strong and aggressive but with a subtle touch – meaning you can taste every and all flavors but without any one tipping the balance. It’s rich and explosive, spicy and aromatic with the reminding hum of 9.0% alcohol to keep you in check.

Food Pairing: I can think of no better beer to share your turkey-laden table with than this masterful brew from our comrades to the north. It invokes the very essence of Fall – golden, crisp, spiced and heartwarming.

Price: Unibroue sells all of their delicious varieties in 4 packs thanks to their high-gravity edge. La Fin du Monde typically runs upwards of $8 for 4, but it’s worth it almost more than any other pumpkin-infused, sweet potato distilled, barrel aged bank breaker out there.

My memories are old, fond and only fairly bitter with this champion of beers. From my awakening to the world of craft beers in 2003 to the horrible mishaps of Vegas, La Fin and I have been thru a lot already. And so, here’s to the future of our tasty relationship starting with Thanksgiving and on thru the wintery seasons to come.

What am I thankful for? Something other than Molsen Dry on tap from Canada.

 

Oct-sober

If you hadn’t noticed, October was pretty quiet around the GiustoGusto kitchen. I posted a late booze of the month and  recipe on the 2nd, but then the line went dead. Radio silence.

Why? Good news & great news. Let’s go for the great news first:

1. After years of anticipation and pipe-dreaming, Benny T’s Vesta is finally available for purchase online. 

2. We made our first collaboration with another local Raleigh brand, Videri Chocolate Factory, who created some tantalizingly spicy Chocolate Caramels laced with HOT Vesta.  They’re currently available for $1 each so get them while supplies last. 

3. I was honored and humbled to be a part of an inspiring article by Walter Magazine; written by Kaitlyn Goalen, photographed by Nick Pironio, & art directed by Jesma Reynolds. The article is a collection of Thanksgiving recipes by local Raleigh cooks with interesting stories/recipes to share about their time cooking and eating in our tiny city. Not sure how I fit the bill, but I’m in great company. 

4. My triumphant return to Italy is in the books! Megs and I are jet-settting across Europe in the spring with a long adventure in the motherland. Sfogliatelle, anchovies and grappa beware! 

Now for the goods news, or in other words, things I’ve learned in October that you should get into:

Quality Grocery‘s Rib Sandwich is crazy good. 

Garland is close to opening their full-blown dining room, woohoo! But their window is closed until then, noo! 

The Ace Hardware behind Seaboard Station has a surprisingly large craft soda selection.

I’m sick of pumpkin things already.

I updated the GiustoGusto branding, along with my own personal site. Every 2 years…

J Betski‘s salads are almost as awesome as their pierogis. 

Yellow Dog Bakery pulls a mean espresso & the sticky-bun happy hour is genius. 

I couldn’t make it to the State Fair, but it sounds like I didn’t miss anything except a heavy case of whiplash. 

Sushi Blues is not that good at all.

Sosta Cafe‘s lunch is still one of the most under-rated in downtown. 

I could live solely off Bida Manda‘s crispy rice for the rest of my life.

And lastly, listen to all of the following bands to have your face melted off into a delicious pool of eargasms:

The Promised Land Sound

Jonathan Wilson

Reignwolf

Lee Fields & the Expressions

White Denim

Lanie Lane

Sylvan Esso

Virgins Family Band

and, of course, the new Arctic Monkey’s album. 

Stay tuned, it’s back to business as normal in November and I’m feeling way to sober as is.

 

 

 

 

 

Booze of the Month & More Carbs!

A day late, but…A September Haiku:

 

I’m tired,  September.

You were really loud, I mean

really loud. And drunk.

 

Time to carbo load and stretch out last year’s yoga pants before the winter swells roll in and I start tacking on Holiday Weight. The following beer may or may not be available anymore so if you happen to spot this elusive grizzly, tag it and bag it!

Beer

Anchor Steam California Lager

Product Details: 4.9% Alcohol lager brewed in San Francisco, CA.

Appearance: Blonde, bubbly and packaged in the finest label design I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Aroma: Bright, fresh and simple without the heavy floral aroma of most craft brews.

Taste: In the words of my boss, this lager is ‘as smooth as a gravy sandwich.” Not too much hops, not too much malt, not too sweet, not too dry. It’s a beer drinker’s beer:  balanced and without frills. In a time of plenty, when October means any flavor beer is on the table, it’s refreshing to sip a lager with respect for the past, and restraint.

Food Pairings: Below I’ve paired it with briny, punching seafood pasta but the California Lager would make good friends with most meals. It’s refined integrity could stand up to the biggest of steaks or the smallest of fried snacks.

Price: This is only the California Lager’s second year in full production and distribution so the cost is on the high-side: $11 for six. It’s a small price to pay for a chance to taste micro-brewery history in the making.

And on to dinner. This is an adaptation of my favorite pasta recipe of all time, something my family calls Alic’ (pronounced Ah-leech). Anchovies are the bacon of southern Italy, so feel free to leave them out but know that you will be judged:

Pasta

Spaghetti con Finocchio e Vongole
serves 4

1 lb Spaghetti

1 Head Finocchio (fennel)

6 Cloves Garlic

1 Can Anchovy Filets (or 6 large salt-packed)

1 Dozen Clams

1 Cup White Wine

Chopped Parsley, Toasted Breadcrumbs, EV Olive Oil, Chile Flakes, Salt, Pepper

Bring a tall pasta pot of salted water to a boil while you make the sauce.

Place a large, shallow sauté pan on med-hi heat. Thinly slice your fennel until you reach the green stem, then stop. Save the fronds to garnish with. Peel garlic but leave whole. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add your garlic cloves.

Finocchio

Once your garlic begins to turn golden brown, add the fennel and toss once. Allow the fennel to brown in the pan until golden brown all over. Season to taste. Lower the heat to medium, drain the packing oil from the anchovies and add all filets to the pan. With a wooden spoon mix and smash the anchovies into the pan until they begin to ‘melt’. Add your wine and allow to reduce until the anchovies are completely melted away. Add a half cup of water, all of the clams, and cover.

Vongole

Add your cooked pasta as soon as the clams begin to open. Season to taste. Toss and top with toasted breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, chile flakes, and an extra drizzle of good Extra Virgin Olive Oil before serving. Add some of the fennel fronds if you really love that anise flavor.

Autumn Calling

Autumn is creeping in. The trees begin to sway, the nights darken and cool, and the air smells damp with the arrival of cold showers and crunchy oak leaves. Wilting evenings call for wilted greens, and Escarole may be one of the finest. Crisp and bitter when raw, succulent and hardy when cooked.

Autumn also brings out the laziness in these bones and one-pot meals arise out of the sheer unwillingness to clean more pans. The following recipe is a riff on a typical Tuorto weeknight dinner, taking the individual dishes of the meal (Pan fried chicken, sautéed escarole and roasted peppers) and combining them into one harmonious forkful:

Escarol with Chicken & Roasted Peppers
Scarola e Pollo (serves 2)

2 Small Heads Escarole

4 Chicken Thighs (bone in and skin on)

8 Garlic Cloves

3-4 Roasted Cubanelle Peppers (or 2 roasted red peppers)

1 Red Onion

1/2 Cup White Wine

E.V. Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Chile Flakes

Place a heavy, wide frying pan on medium-high heat as you prep your ingredients. Season your chicken thighs with plenty of salt and cracked pepper. Add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of the frying pan, then add the chicken thighs.

Brown chicken on both sides, roughly 5-6 minutes per side. When chicken is golden brown on both sides and almost cooked thru, remove and add the whole garlic cloves and chile flakes to taste. When lightly golden brown add your sliced red onion and fry on high heat until lightly browned on the edges.

Roughly chop your escarole and add it all at once to the pan without stirring but season with salt and pepper. It will hiss, pop, and look like way too much, but give it 2 minutes and it will begin to wilt down into the pan. Once wilted, add the white wine, roughly chopped roasted peppers and the chicken thighs.

Toss and allow to cook until the chicken is cooked thru, the wine has almost all evaporated and there’s only a thin layer of juice on the bottom of the pan.

Serve as hot as possible along side or on top of toasted bread with an extra drizzle of good olive oil and a few cracks of black pepper. Some Vesta wouldn’t  hurt either.

It’s not glamorous, but neither is Autumn. It’s humble and comforting just as it should be, and exactly like the fleeting fall days to follow.

 

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